By Mike Moen

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota school districts are carrying out distance learning as most of the state remains shut down due to the pandemic. But an education advocacy group says some students might be falling behind.

Minnesota school buildings are closed through early May, and possibly the rest of the academic year. That means teachers and parents are responsible for making sure children are still learning at home.

But Josh Crosson, executive director of the group EdAllies, says there are situations where barriers exist.

“We’re hearing from English-language learners — families where English is not a language spoken at home, or it’s not the first language spoken at home,” says Crosson, “that are having a tough time being able to receive from information from schools and school districts to then implement these district learning plans at homes.”

Crosson says other families don’t have internet access, or a parent’s job situation doesn’t allow them to ensure their child is doing the school work.

In a statement, Minnesota’s education commissioner said, “Districts have been intentional in keeping equity at the center of their plans.” The commissioner says the guidelines allow districts to create plans to meet the needs of individual students, rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Crosson says there are examples of teachers going the extra mile to connect with students, and notes that the department had to issue new guidelines on the fly. But he thinks the state was under-prepared for this situation, and can hopefully build a more robust plan based on the experience.

“Minnesota as a whole has been super-resistant to distance learning before this pandemic occurred,” says Crosson. “Now that we understand a need for it, I think the department should be able to play a role in creating some guidelines on what distance learning should look like in every district.”

For students who do fall behind in their learning, Crosson says the state should consider expanding the school year into the summer months. But state education officials say they don’t anticipate the need for that to happen.

Minnesota’s student achievement gap has been well documented, and there are concerns that it could face more problems because of the pandemic.